UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Still Needs Senate Approval


In a process that has taken over three decades, the United Nations has created the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international human rights treaty that protects the rights and dignity of people with disabilities.

The CRPD continues to be ratified by countries around the globe—over 151 thus far. According to Don MacKay, chairman of the committee that negotiated the treaty (from the Convention website), it seeks to “elaborate in detail the rights of persons with disabilities and set out a code of implementation.”

Unfortunately, this process is being hampered, in part by the sheer number of nations that need to ratify the CRPD, but also by slow reaction time by major global players like the United States. To date, the US remains a signatory, but the US Senate has yet to ratify this landmark ruling.

Paula Sotnik, a project director at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston, has been monitoring the convention for some time. “Disability results from the interaction between persons with disabilities and attitudinal and environmental barriers that prevent full participation in society,” Sotnik explains. “CRPD looks at the person as a person first, not a disability—it’s not the person who has the disability, it is the environment and attitudes that have the disability.”

“Basically, it’s everyone’s human right to be able to get in and out of buildings, to be able to read public materials, and then it goes further,” Sotnik says. “The right to a home, the right to vote, the right to go to school, and the right to work, as anyone else can.”

Countries that ratify the CRPD have a legal obligation to uphold all the articles. Countries that simply sign (as the US has done) agree to the basic premise, but are not agreeing to be legally obligated. In 2012, the Senate failed by six votes to ratify the treaty.

By not ratifying the CRPD, the United States effectively removes itself from any international conversation about disability rights. In addition, a ratified international treaty would help protect U.S. citizens with disabilities who travel abroad for pleasure or for work.

The DirectCourse/College of Employment Services offers an overview of important disability-related legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. Check out our course Principles of Career Development for an overview of disability rights in the US.


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